By Dede Demet Barry, T-Mobile professional cycling team
I only get nervous for a few races each season and the world championship road races had my heart racing all weekend – although, I am not sure if I was more nervous for Michael’s race or for mine.
The races in Hamilton provided a few surprises this past weekend. After previewing the course on Thursday and chatting with many of the men and women about the difficulty of the hills, the expectation was that the races would be much more selective than they were.
We encountered two climbs per 12-kilometer lap. The first was 1.5 kilometers and the second was 2 kilometers in length. This did not leave much time for recovery and it looked to be a course that would favor power climbers.
On Friday afternoon, I studied the CBC coverage of the junior women’s and the men’s U-23 races. Surprisingly, both races ended with relatively large group sprints. This changed my outlook a bit going into the race. It seemed the speed in both races was rather conservative from the start, but increased as the race progressed. Our race was not much different.
The first laps were ridden at a relatively mellow tempo. There were sporadic attacks, including a couple from my teammates Christine Thornburn and Tina Mayolo. The U.S. team hoping to place a rider in an early breakaway, but the peloton did not let that happen. It was mainly the Spanish team controlling the group in the early laps for their leader, Joanna Somarriba, while most of the race favorites were trying to keep their legs fresh.
Halfway through the race, the pace picked up and more attacks were firing. This caused some selection and the front group pared down considerably. Kristin Armstrong forced a five person breakaway midway through the race, which stayed away for a short time. The Russians and Lithuanians were quite active as well, firing one rider after the next off the front. I was upfront, following many of the moves.
The peloton was thinning each lap, as the pace was quick. Each attack was coming back, but when we hit the top of the first climb, with one and half laps to go, there was a lull in the bunch and Jeannie Longo took a perfect opportunity to attack.
She jumped out of the group and all the riders in the front were looking at each other, hesitating, hoping someone would take up the chase. Meanwhile, Jeannie powered away and opened up a big gap. There was a sense of embarrassment in our group, as Jeannie is old enough to be the mother of many of the riders in the race. But even though several teams had 2-3 riders in the group, the group was reluctant to form a chase.
Nicole Cooke from Great Britain turned to me at one point and said “Hey Dede, we can’t let this happen.” The chase formed, with Nicole and me taking turns on the front and Somarriba joining us with one lap to go. Longo’s gap was shrinking quickly, but then Somarriba’s derailleur cable broke on the climb and the rhythm of our chase was disrupted for a moment. Longo’s gap swelled a bit again, as our group slowed. But as we approached the final climb, Mirjam Melchers put in a huge effort, hammered up the climb, splitting our group and closing the gap to Longo.
At the finish, it was a group of six sprinting to the finish. Susanne Ljungskog managed to make it into that group, without taking a pull all day and won her second world championship in two years. I have yet to see the video footage of the final sprint, but there has been much controversy over the final 400 meters, as Ljungskog and Melchers were bumping up against one another, much like they did in the final kilometers of the world’s in Belgium last year. Last year, Melchers crashed as a result and many people were suggesting that she may have lost the race Saturday because of Ljungskog’s sharp elbow.
In any case, I think the crowd really enjoyed the final laps of the women’s race, as there was much excitement and suspense. For me, it was really special having our family and friends cheering each lap on the hills. I can’t say I was content with my result, but I really enjoyed racing and being in the mix in the final laps. I had good sensations all day, but cycling is a tactical game and regardless of one’s form, one must always play their cards right and hope for a little luck in the process. We saw so many riders taking chances all day attacking. Longo’s move almost won her another rainbow jersey, but in the end, it was Ljunskog, who rode a relatively conservative race, that stole the show.
After the race, I was able to kick back and enjoy a nice dinner with our family, while Michael was resting up for his race on Sunday. I have to say, I was feeling a little nervous for Michael as I knew he wanted to put in a solid ride. We went to the start of his race Sunday morning and I had chills as the boys took off for their 260 kilometer journey through the streets of Hamilton. The early laps were not so interesting, as the pace was slow and all the riders looked comfortable, but halfway through, the racing began, and I had my eyes peeled on the Beckett street climb each lap, as they passed. It was good to see Michael looking comfortable in the peloton.
It was also really nice meeting up with so many familiar faces and chatting as we walked around the course. It seemed the North American cycling community really rallied to support the world championships.
I ventured down to the big screen television for the final laps. It was not until the final 10 kilometers that critical moves were made. When Bettini attacked up the Beckett climb the final lap, five guys followed. I thought that may be the final move of the race and the winner would come from that group. I have to say, I was little bummed to see that Michael was not there and no Americans were present. But then, on the final climb, Michael came firing out of the peloton, bridged to the breakaway and nearly made it across to Astraloa who had also attacked on the final climb.
The final three kilometers, my heart was speeding with excitement. It was neat to see him in the mix, providing a little pleasure to the Canadian fans. I think that Michael’s ride brought some happiness to the Canadian team after a rough weekend, where they saw one of the junior men fracture his skull in a crash and also suffered the exclusion of Genvieve Jeanson from the women’s race.